The Running Deer Target

The following information comes from Practical Rifle Shooting by Walter Winans. Practical Rifle Shooting is also available to purchase in print.

Most moving targets are representations of a “running deer,” a wild boar, or a man, and I shall now proceed to describe the “deer” in use at Wimbledon, and latterly at Bisley. I believe it to have been one of the first targets ever used at a National Rifle Association meeting, and it remains, with slight modifications, the best of its kind.

The cartoon by Sir Edwin Landseer, for the “stag’s” outline, is hung, framed, in the National Rifle Association’s offices, and the N.R.A. might use it as a fitting heading to certificates of efficiency at moving targets.

I have an idea that Landseer also used this drawing in his picture of a stag chased by a deerhound. I certainly seem to recollect such a picture in coloured crayons, the hound galloping along with lifted head, preparatory to springing at the deer’s throat.

The Bisley arrangement of this target is as follows:—

A line of small-gauge rails is laid with a dip in the middle of the track. There is a straight run at either end of the track, and a set of stop-buffers at each finish. A light trolley runs upon these rails, and the straight finish at either end is so calculated that the trolley naturally slows up to a stop as it reaches the buffers. A low mound, the whole length of the “run,” protects the trolley and its wheels from being hit from the firing point.

The trolley is started by men at either end of the track, and their push, added to its own momentum, is sufficient to run it up the further rise.

The “stag” is mounted on a turn-table, on the trolley, and the “run” consists of about twenty yards, at the rate of twelve miles an hour, a “five-minute gait,” as we trotting men call it, too slow for a frightened deer, but about the speed at which the stags, at the tail end of the herd, canter past in a deer drive before the first shot has been fired.

The men at either end of the track mark the position of the hits on the “dummy” deer (described later), and obliterate on the “stag” any hits which have been made. They then turn the “stag” .on its turn-table, and, when signalled to do so, send it off on the return run.

The Bisley “deer” runs in front of the face of a high bank; a similar bank, but in this case on the near side of the rails, serves to protect the markers, who stand in the level parts of the track. As a further precaution, a screen made of railway sleepers set on end is built across the track where it begins to fall from the level at either end. The opening in these screens is just sufficient to let the trolley and “stag” run through. The “stag” is only some two inches thick, and there is only just clearance room allowed, so that there is no risk of the markers being hit. Finally, a danger post is placed just below the screens on each descent, and a fine of ten shillings is imposed on every shot fired except when the “stag” is between these posts.

The marking is managed as follows. A dummy stag surmounts the bank at each end of the run. On the “stag’s” arrival at either end of his run one marker obliterates the hit (or hits, in case of a right and left shot) on the “stag” by covering them with a paper patch, while another signals them by means of a rod, with which he points out the hits on the dummy stag on his side of the run.

The original “stag” was made of iron and carried an eight-inch diameter circle incised round the place where “the heart” was supposed to be. A hypercritical mind might have objected that this was a generous measure, and that stags carry their heart lower and more forward than the position indicated by this circle.

The circle represented the bullseye, and a hit within it was marked four points. The circle was not, of course, visible from the firing point.

Other incised lines divided the neck from the shoulder, and the forelegs from the body. This “inner” space, counting three points, was completed by a vertical line set some two inches behind the bull in such a way that the “inner” area was shaped rather like a round cheese of which a third had been cut vertically away.

Another vertical line dividing the body just forward of the stifle, one cutting off the hind legs at the stifle, and one cutting off the tail, completed the divisions of the stag. An “outer,” counting two, was allowed for a hit on the legs, neck, or tail, or the middle of the deer—between the two vertical lines. There was no “magpie” division then. The remainder of the body—”the haunch”—not only counted nothing towards the score, but was penalised by a fine of half a crown for each hit recorded upon it.

The entire surface of the iron target was coloured a rusty brown with distemper-paint, and a dab of the paint obliterated the mark of the bullet so soon as the scorer had noted it. This was not the best possible method of obliterating a hit, for distemper-paint requires some time in which to dry, and until the new spot had dried it was of a darker colour than the remainder of the carcase. Hence, if several shots were placed on or near the bull and painted over, the deer would be running with a visibly darker patch over his heart, a great help to whoever chanced to take his shots at such a time.

The dummy stags, for marking, were similarly divided, but were painted white with black divisions, and a black bullseye. Hits were signalled by means of coloured discs mounted on the marking poles. A white disc, to show against the black bullseye, signalled “Bull—4″; a red one signalled “Inner—3 “; an “Outer-2″ was shown by a black disc; while the “Haunch—fine 2s. 6d.,” was marked by a black cross.

An iron stag did well enough against the soft lead bullets driven by black powder which were used at that time, although I have known it almost knocked off the rails by a shot from an elephant gun. After a while, however, it became sadly battered and a steel deer took its place. Shooting was increasing in accuracy and the steel stag’s heart now only measured six inches in diameter, of course, as before, indicated by an incised wire in such a way as to be invisible from the firing point.

But presently the steel stag had to follow his iron predecessor, nickel-coated, small-bore bullets driven by smokeless powder having made him a source of danger through their liability to fly off at an angle after impact. The third and last kind of deer, therefore, consists of canvas stretched on a frame. He has also, more’s the pity, lost his horns.

The canvas stag is, curiously enough, harder to hit and to make a high score on. A lead bullet, especially if made with a very hollow point, made a very big splash on striking the iron target, even more so if it happened to impinge on one of the rivets in it. Every shot which touches the bullseye line counts a bull, and thus a number of shots which would miss the canvas bull splashed well within the circle on the iron or steel one. On those targets, again, one both saw and heard one’s bullet immediately after impact—an immense aid when firing double shots at the running deer. With the canvas “stag” you cannot see a hit, especially with a small-bore bullet, and while you do see a cloud of dust, it is not always possible to decide if this has been flung up by a miss in front or by a bullet which has pierced the canvas and imbedded itself in the bank behind. One’s first shot is, for this reason, no help in judging where to aim the second, for the only certainty obtainable comes from the marker’s signal at the end of each run. At a stationary target one can hear the bullet go through the canvas at short ranges, but the rumble of the trolley drowns this sound in the case of the running deer.

The colour of the original Wimbledon deer was so uncertain against the background that several of us asked to have it altered so as to more closely resemble the hue of the natural animal, and be more of a contrast to its environment. When this was done the running deer was as perfect an artificial target as could be devised, and it was a distinct misfortune when improved modern weapons made the metal animal unsafe. Both stags, the steel and the iron, are now in honourable retirement as ornaments in front of the N.R.A. offices, and the large dents caused by the elephant gun may be seen upon the latter.

The canvas stag has been improved by the addition of an extra division, “the magpie.” The value of a “bull” has not been raised to the usual five of a fixed target, but remains at four. An “inner” ring is drawn round the bull, with a 12-in. diameter, and counts three; the remainder of the old “inner” (but with the vertical line convex) is thus the “magpie,” value two, and the old “outer” is reduced to score only one point. It is rather a pity that the divisions do not have the same values as on the stationary targets, as when a score is published it does not correspond with the fixed target scores; for instance, a highest possible score of seven shots at the latter counts thirty-five points, whereas if a seven-shot highest possible score were made at the “deer” it would only count twenty-eight points, equal to an average of mere “inners” at a fixed target; and I have consequently known uncomplimentary remarks made on a good score at the running deer by people who did not know of this discrepancy.

The old target was once, for a few days, fitted with a crank arrangement on the front axle intended to represent the galloping motion of a running deer, but this was abandoned as it got out of order and tended to make the deer run off the rails. This objection would not apply to the lighter canvas stag, as it was the top-heavy weight of the iron deer which caused it to run off the rails when swayed by the crank. Such a crank, on one or both wheels, would be an improvement on a private “running deer” when the additional cost was no object. It would be still better to secure the galloping movement by an excentric instead of a crank, as it would tend less to jerk it off the rails.

I consider that the outstretched fore-legs of the N.R.A. deer are wrong. They afford a steady point at which to aim, whereas the motion of a live deer’s legs is the reverse, and the contrast would utterly disconcert any one whose practice had been confined to the “stag,” whose fore-legs give a point to aim at. I should have the fore-legs in the position which they would occupy were he rising at a fence, tucked up out of the way, if they cannot be made to move like those of a live deer galloping.

A live stag, especially if he has big horns, carries his head as steadily as possible when running. He gallops without moving his neck muscles, which are as rigid as those of a man who, in order to carry a heavy load on his head, walks from his hips. If you watch a heavy stag galloping, the top of his horns can be seen to move in as steady a line as the head of a man on a bicycle, but his entire body, from the neck downward, is in constant undulating movement. The neck bends and undulates under the steady head much like the constant swaying of a flag from the staff of a moving river steamer. The end of the nose, or rather in front of it, is, therefore, a legitimate point of aim when firing at an artificial running deer target, and if the head and neck are stretched forward in a natural position aiming for the nose affords good practice for the real animal. When the head is stretching forward naturally, in a hard gallop, a line drawn through the eye to the corner of the mouth should be almost horizontal; when very “done,” a stag’s nose points lower.

With the modern small-bore rifle and smokeless powder it is unnecessary to make the long speed allowance of earlier days. An aim only just in front of the chest allows enough for the speed at which the Bisley running deer moves, when using a Lee-Metford or Mannlicher or Mauser. The new weapons and ammunition have thus minimised the risk of shooting too far back, and so making a haunch, which was a danger in the old days of comparatively slow big-bore rifles. A “shot-and-ball gun,” owing to the large bore and small charge, “goes up” very slowly to the “stag.” The use of such a weapon is, consequently, liable to score “haunches,” unless you aim very forward.

When I speak of aiming at the end of a forefoot, or the deer’s nose, in order to make a bull’s-eye, it must be understood that the rifle needs to be sighted appropriately for an aim at the nose or toe to be the proper elevation to score a bull’s-eye, i.e., some 6 in. below the nose or above the toe at a range of 100 yards.

There is a “Running Man” target at Bisley as well as a “Running Deer.” In the early days, when the man was made of metal, he carried a rifle at the trail. Shooters soon found out that if one put up the 200 yards sight, to allow for aiming so low, the end of the “man’s” rifle, which projected well in front of him, was just the right measure for the allowance necessary to make a bull’s-eye with the regulation Martini rifle. There was, consequently, much lamentation when some one shot off the end of the running man’s rifle and spoiled it as an “allowance measure!”

The “Running Man” is harder to hit than the “deer,” because he is not so deep through his chest (horizontally), than the deer’s “inner.” A shot scoring a “magpie,” Or even a far-back “inner,” on the deer would, therefore, be a miss on the man. The man has no “magpie,” but his “outer” counts two points,

By the way, this greater difficulty in hitting a vertical than a horizontal target, when it is moving across the line of fire, shows that if a soldier has to sprint across the line of fire, it is safer for him to keep as upright as possible.

A further difficulty with the man arises from this “narrowness,” and the distance between the rails and the back stop-butt. The dust-spurt knocked up by a miss in front shows itself behind him, just as though the fault had lain in not making enough allowance in front. It is thus very difficult to estimate the errors in one’s speed allowance, and beginners will do well to learn “allowance” on the stag before they proceed to the “man.”

The best practice of all is to fire a “right and left” at man and deer, the targets being simultaneously started from opposite ends of the ground, but it should be borne in mind that this variation of the programme is not without risk to the markers, as they might get caught between the trolleys which carry the targets.

These targets may be shot at from two positions—when standing erect, and when sitting with an elbow on either knee, the feet being set rather wide apart. I saw a “target shot” try shooting in the prone position at the deer once! The sitting position is a good one for firing at real deer, particularly when they are standing or moving at a fairly regular and not very rapid rate, and not too close to you. It is certainly an effective position for hitting the “running deer” or “running man” targets if the marksman happens to be suitably built for that position.

Prepare to shoot at these targets by standing or sitting so as to face rather towards the direction to which they run, and not that from which they appear, so as to be in the easier position at the moment the rifle is fired.

If you are firing at these targets in a prize competition, one shot at a time, it is easier to fire when the man or deer is on the rise at the end of the run, for the target is then moving less rapidly. For practice in practical shooting, you should learn to take your shot as soon as possible after the target has passed the danger post.

When the competition allows two shots to each run, fire the first on the descent and the second on the rise. At the first shot the target is moving more rapidly and descending, at the second it is ascending and moving more slowly. Therefore aim low and forward for the first shot, and higher and not so much forward with the second barrel. Do not check your swing after the first discharge, but continue to follow the “deer” with the rifle until you have fired the second shot. This applies equally to double-barrel rifles or repeating rifles of the Colt or Winchester pattern. With most military pattern repeaters you have to take down the rifle from your shoulder after each shot—a great fault, in my opinion.

The point at which to aim with a .303 or smaller calibre is about the junction between the foreleg and chest for the first shot; half-way up the chest is the point for the second.

It is important to remember that your object, if prize shooting at the Bisley running deer, is to hit the bullseye, but that in firing at a live stag it is better to strike him in the shoulder—say four inches in front of the heart. Unless, therefore, you are shooting at the running target for prizes, treat it as though it were the real beast, and shoot for the shoulder or lower part of the neck, instead of trying for the bullseye. At the “running deer,” a hit a little too far back counts “an inner, three” (and may win you a prize); at a real deer it “counts” the rest of the day wasted tracking a wounded stag, and perhaps losing him eventually “over the march.”

At the “running man,” just at the edge of his chest, where it is most prominent, is the spot to aim for making bulls, and—but I know nothing about man-killing—also, I suppose, the best place for stopping a real man.

The above hints for shooting at the Bisley running targets embody the lessons of my own experience. Quicker shots will do well to aim a trifle further back than the points indicated by me; slower shots will aim a fraction forward.

Entries are a shilling a shot in “pool shooting”; the entrance money is divided between the winners, less the N.R.A.’s percentage, deducted for range expenses. If a man can shoot fairly well—say, make a bullseye on the deer once in four shots and on the man once in eight shots—he can about pay expenses, unless he is careless and gets himself fined for “haunches” on the deer, or for firing the wrong side of the danger posts. There are also prizes at 2s, 6d. entrance fee for from four to eight shots each.

It seems to me a pity that the donors of prizes at Bisley so seldom offer prizes for the “running man” or “deer.” I believe that a really good series of prizes, perhaps with the addition of a challenge cup for the highest score, would do more towards encouraging practical shooting than the endless prizes offered for shooting at stationary targets. A good competition might be made out of six shots at the man and an equal number at the deer.

I have already mentioned the sitting or standing positions as the best for these targets. They are, indeed, the only two which are of much use. Kneeling is a cramped position, and one can’t “swing” well in it.

In the sitting position, one may rest both elbows on the knees, or the left elbow only, on the left knee, or vice versa for a left-handed man. The choice really remains one of build, for a short, stout man cannot rest both elbows on his knees. The bank at the Bisley firing point gives a further choice of attitude, since you can take up a position which lets the feet rest on a lower level than that on which you are seated. I personally prefer the use of both knees, and to have my feet slightly lower than where I sit. The position should always face towards the point at which the target is to disappear, and this also varies according as the “run” is to the right or left. A right-handed man, for instance, needs to sit rather more towards the right for a right-handed “run” of the “stag,” since the “run” will be far more difficult to swing to a right-hand man than to a left-hand. In sitting, more “allowance” must be made than when shooting in the standing position, owing to the swing of the arms and body being hampered. Do not get into the trick of aiming at a spot on the butt and shooting when the “stag” arrives there. It is no use for winning prizes, and also ruins your shooting.

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The Running Deer Target - Practical Rifle Shooting - Winans

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